February 20th, 2010 is a significant date in Dons history. That night, USF successfully defeated Santa Clara at the Leavey Center after a riveting overtime match up. Dior Lowhorn led the Dons with 28 points and a young Angelo Caloario added 20 points. However, the story actually begins before tip-off. Rex Walters walked into the Benson Center, the student hub at the University of Santa Clara, and presented a chalk talk for some USF alumni in attendance. He walked up to the podium and announced that the University of San Francisco would host an exempt tournament starting in the 2010 – 2011 season. The Green & Gold fans in attendance cheered.
After many years, a USF hosted tournament would return to the Hilltop. That following December, the Dons ended their 2010-2011 non-conference schedule with a four team tournament. This field competed in the first ever Hilltop Challenge and started an annual tradition at USF. Below is a complete list of the teams that have participated in the event since its inaugural 2010 appearance.
|Hilltop Challenge Participants|
|1. Colorado St.||1. Lousiana||1. Columbia|
|2. Dominican||2. North Dakota St.||2. Wayland Baptist|
|3. Hampton||3. Northern Arizona|
As you can see, things started off well for the Hilltop Challenge in 2010. Three opponents came into San Francisco. Dominican, a D-2 squad from San Rafael, CA, was also in the 2010 event. A D-2 team playing in a D-1 tournament may have worried some fans, but who could over look the fact that the Green & Gold were once again hosting an exempt tournament? It was a win on the Hilltop and the promise of 2011 Hilltop Challenge grew stronger.
I believe the Hilltop Challenge was at its absolute best in 2011. Not only did three opponents return to charge a four team tournament, but they were all D-1 squads. The Dons also played very well in the tournament with it’s only loss coming to a young North Dakota State Bison team. The Hilltop Challenge was also perfectly coordinated with “Opening Week” for the Dons Basketball season. The USF Athletic Department made a huge effort to make “Opening Act” an event to remember – it was a job well done.
With momentum building from the first two Hilltop Challenge events, fans were eagerly awaiting the announcement for the 2012 participants. However, a different format was released leaving USF with only one game in the challenge. Two teams made the trip, but the Dons did not play D-2 squad Wayland Baptist from Texas. Ivy League participant, Columbia University, played both USF and Wayland Baptist. Last year’s event left fans uncertainty for the future of our Hilltop Challenge. After two strong years, the annual event felt like a let down.
2013 Golden Gate Invitational
Scheduling for the 2013-2014 season seemed particularly difficult for the San Francisco Dons. Fans entered late August without any hints to who the Dons would be playing and if the Hilltop Challenge would continue in the San Francisco schedule. However, University of Vermont Athletics announced that UVM would travel to San Francisco during Thanksgiving to participate in an event called the Battle in the Bay. The Catamounts press release also included names Cal Poly and North Dakota as opponents during the four day, three game tournament. As exciting as this entire development sounded, there were conflicts with Oregon’s Global Sports Hardwood Classic in Eugene, OR that same week. Both North Dakota and Cal Poly were scheduled to play in that event.
— ISURedbirds (@ISURedbirds) August 28, 2013
After a brief time of confusion the Illinois State Redbirds announced that they would also travel to San Francisco for the Battle in the Bay tournament. The Redbirds were originally slated for the Hoops for Hopes tournament in Cancun, Mexico. After many scheduling conflicts, Illinois State dropped out of Hoops for Hopes and jumped on the opportunity to join the San Francisco Tournament. Luckily, the Dons were still looking for participants for the 2013 event.
With two teams locked down for a tournament, USF released information for the 2013-2014 schedule. A team to be named later was eventually announced as Sonoma State, a D-2 team in Northern California. The Dons also released a new name for the 2013 event calling it the Golden Gate Invitational. The 2013 event will start on November 27th. After an off day on the 28th for Thanksgiving, play resumes on the 29th and ends on the 30th. For a breakdown on the teams playing in this event, take a look at our break down of USF’s non-conference schedule.
One For the Road
Here is action from last year’s Hilltop Challenge as USF defeated Columbia University.